Game-boy back

Posted on Feb 16, 2015 in Health Topics

Game-boy back

The long hours spent gaming are taking their toll on children’s bodies

Wherever you go, you see them – restaurants, the doctor’s rooms, even on the couch at home. Children sitting hunched over some new gadget, or the latest console, pounding away as they fire little birds at laughing piggies. But the time children spend playing computer games is putting their bodies under strain. Liska Thom, a physiotherapist in Durban, says that children spend long hours in a stationary position, often with poor posture. This causes an imbalance between muscles, which can’t hold the joints in place. The soft tissue and joints strain, become inflamed and start to hurt. Over time, bones may also fuse in the
incorrect position, causing curvature of the spine. Repeating actions when playing games doesn’t help either. Repetitive use of the same body part can result in an overuse or repetitive strain injury, says Joburg-based paediatric orthopaedic surgeon Dr Greg Firth. The resulting injuries have taken on names like “Gameboy back”, “Nintendonitis” and “Playstation thumb”.

Damage done
Repetitive strain injuries are a group of injuries caused by prolonged repetitive movement and are often found in fingers, hands, arms, shoulders and necks, says Cape Town chiropractor Dr Per Rehn. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common example, where pressure on a nerve in the wrist causes numbness, pain or even loss of movement in the hand. Arm muscles can also be strained from using a computer mouse, thumbs from using Game Boys or phones, and upper and lower back muscles from poor posture. Look out for tenderness, pain or throbbing in muscles or joints. Other symptoms could include tingling, numbness, stiffness or weakness in the affected area.

“The repetitive strain on the joints over time can be quite substantial,” notes Thom, adding that children are likely to carry these injuries with them into adulthood, when they will experience more chronic back, neck and shoulder problems. These problems are also becoming more common. The technology is readily available, and with cellphones and tablets, increasingly mobile. While more research needs to be done in South Africa, Rehn believes that these injuries will become more of a problem in the future.

Time out
You can’t pretend the technology isn’t there, says Rehn, but you can limit children’s gaming time and encourage them to sit properly, and play outside. If children are experiencing pain or discomfort, have them take a break, as problems should resolve if they stop playing, says Firth. If the pain doesn’t clear up, see a physiotherapist or doctor.

Game plan
Encourage good posture when sitting at tables, desks or on the couch, ensuring backs are supported.
Get children to lie on their tummies and prop themselves up on their elbows while playing games.
Encourage regular breaks, exercise and stretching.

Stretch hands and fingers: Make a fist, hold and release, pushing your fingers out; Grip and release a soft ball several times with each hand;
Place your hand, palm down, on a table. Lift and drop fingers one at a time.

Stretch shoulders, neck and back: Roll shoulders forwards, then backwards; Standing straight with legs slightly apart, stretch one arm up and overhead, while bending the spine sideways. Repeat with the other arm; Slowly roll the neck from side to side, first with your neck tilted forward and then backward.